Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.
France/USA/United Kingdom, 1969. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Screenplay by Charles Dyer, based on his play. Cinematography by Christopher Challis. Produced by Stanley Donen. Music by Dudley Moore. Production Design by Willy Holt. Costume Design by Clare Rendlesham. Film Editing by Richard Marden
Richard Burton and Rex Harrison have been living together for over twenty years, running a barbershop downstairs and bickering constantly upstairs, with Burton taking care of his aging and infirm mother (Cathleen Nesbitt) while Harrison ignores his. On the eve of Harrison having to appear in court for having allegedly solicited a police officer for sex, the two of them rehash all their woes, insecurities and frustrations with each other, with each passing fight revealing that underneath all their bitter self-hatred they actually love and need each other very much. Criticized for being homophobic camp upon its release, the film is actually full of arguments that are mean but honest, their nasty personalities easily explained as the result of living in a world that turns their very nature into a criminal act. Harrison and Burton don’t overdo the mincing, they come off more like real caricatures that one could meet in a salon, but their talent can do nothing about the fact that they are very obviously straight men putting on gay drag. Even if they do turn you off with their ripe performances, that isn’t the challenge facing this Stanley Donen turd: the real problem is that it’s boring. A flat, uninviting visual style and circular conversations that offer information but no insight make for a painfully flat film, one whose characters are so self-involved that even when they offer sarcastic bon mots they are rarely funny or endearing. Watch The Boys In The Band for something that effectively captures the soft heart at the centre of a generation of a damaged gay mens’ interactions, as this one provides very little reward except as a nearly-forgotten curiosity starring two great actors of the British tradition.